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School shootings: Hold the grown-ups accountable

Children cannot legally buy guns. It’s adults who introduce guns into a home, where curious or disturbed kids can get access to the deadly weapons. So, who is to blame if a youngster gets a firearm and uses it to commit mass murder, as 15-year-old Ethan Crumbley did in Oxford, Michigan, recently?

The law in Michigan says no one under 21 may legally buy or possess a handgun. The store clerk where James Crumbley, Ethan’s dad, bought the gun confirmed that the boy was there when the 9mm Sig Sauer SP pistol was purchased. A social media post from Ethan’s mom, Jennifer, showed her with Ethan at a gun range and the caption, “Mom and son day, testing out his new Christmas present.” The parents later admitted they kept the gun in an unlocked nightstand drawer.

After a teacher discovered Ethan shopping for ammunition on his phone, she reportedly left a voicemail for his mom to inform her. Jennifer did not respond and instead texted her son, “Lol. I’m not mad at you. You have to learn not to get caught.”

Wouldn’t you be interested enough to at least have a conversation with that teacher?

The next day — just hours before the fatal event — both parents were called into the school, along with Ethan, to discuss a disturbing doodle he’d drawn. It featured a handgun, a bloody figure with gunshot wounds and the chilling words, “Blood everywhere. The thoughts won’t stop. Help me,” and “The world is dead.”

Despite obvious red flags, the Crumbleys’ kept secret was that they had just bought their son a $570 handgun, dimensions roughly 7 1/2 by 5 1/2 inches and easily hidden in Ethan’s backpack. No one bothered to search the boy for a weapon and the superintendent says the parents “flatly refused” to take their son home. School officials, tasked with keeping students safe, ordered future counseling and sent Ethan back to class. Within hours the first 911 calls went out.

Brandishing his early Christmas present, Ethan let loose 30 bullets, killing four classmates and wounding another seven people.

Turns out some Oxford High parents had allowed their children to stay home from school that day because “a countdown” and some other “really scary stuff” had been shared online by a classmate. Yet the sheriff says neither parents nor school officials ever contacted his office. Much too late investigators discovered Ethan had communicated his deadly intentions in both videos and in his journal.

Why did no adult contact law enforcement? I can’t help thinking that the outcome of that school meeting would have been vastly different if only law enforcement had been asked to participate. After seeing the doodle, the officer would surely have asked, “Is there a gun in the house?” The deputy likely would have insisted the boy be taken home as a precaution.

When news hit of an active shooter at Oxford High, Jennifer immediately texted her son, “Ethan, don’t do it.” His father ran home to check for the gun. When he found it missing he called 911 to say he feared his son was the gunman. These actions indicate the parents were aware of their son’s unstable mental state. Why else would they instantly assume the worst?

Ethan has now been charged with multiple counts including terrorism and premeditated first-degree murder. He will be tried as an adult.

In a rare but not unprecedented move, Ethan’s parents have been charged with involuntary manslaughter. Michigan law allows prosecution of anyone who authorities believe contributed to a situation where there was a high chance of harm or death.

All three Crumbleys are being held at the same jail and bail seems unlikely. The parents were declared a flight risk after skipping their surrender date. They were apprehended hiding in a commercial building close to the U.S.-Canadian border with $4,000 in cash.

It will be interesting to see if a clever defense attorney convinces young Ethan to save himself by turning on his parents, blaming them for illegally providing him the means to murder when they knew, or should have known, about his fragile state of mind.

All parents need to assume responsibility. If your child is scared to go to school, report that to law enforcement. And, please, lock up your guns.

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